Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!
The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats. Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!
It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown. The views from both spots will not disappoint you!
Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier. This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.
Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up. We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.
Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town! The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.
Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza. Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.
Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo. We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.
If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido. This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.
Recently I had an opportunity to travel to Milan and the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. I only spent a few days in Milan near the Piazza del Duomo while starting my exploration of the Lombardy region.
Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy and is surrounded by the famous Lakes region. This city is usually associated with fashion, travel, finance and of course, architecture!
Milan’s Gothic Cathedral towers over the Piazza del Duomo and is the 3rd largest in Europe and the country’s second largest behind St. Peters. On one side of the Piazza you will find The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with its shops, all sorts of entertainment and rooftop bars and restaurants.
The impressive enclosed shopping arcade known as The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele features high end shops, like Gucci, Prada, Versace, Ferrari and Louis Vuitton. The 19th century Belle Epoque domed ceiling is the crowning piece of architecture.
The Galleria was the first building in the city to have electric lighting!!
The paintings at the base of the dome represent Europe, Asia, Africa and America.
The Cathedral has stood on this spot in Milan for 2000 years. It has fifty-two 100′ pillars which represent weeks of the year.
Don’t miss the chance to walk up to the roof and marvel at the 2245 marble statues and 135 marble spires that adorn the church. The white marble was quarried in the nearby lakes region of Lake Maggiore.
Milan’s streets radiate out from the Duomo stretching out to its very contemporary financial district.
If you are in this region be sure to find a day to visit Milan!
Do you love architecture? Then you will love Vicenza a UNESCO World Heritage Site! This city is a successful blend of old and new and the city of Palladio!
Vicenza is a very old city dating back to pre-Roman times before it was absorbed into the Roman empire in 157 BC. However, it is the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked in this city that it is associated with. Located in the Veneto region of Northeast Italy it was basically known as mainland Venice being situated between Venice and Verona and 120 miles east of Milan. Situated at the base of Monte Berico it straddles the Bacchiglione River. It’s known for the elegant buildings designed by the 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked here.
Many of Palladio’s buildings still survive today including the Palladian Basilica and the Palazzo Chiericati, a Renaissance palace dating back to 1550, now home to an art gallery. His Palladian window was a source of inspiration for architects an designers around the world.
Basilica Palladiana, the most symbolic building of Vicenza is a very impressive building and one of the architectural highlights of the city. Constructed in the 15th century it is renowned for its loggia consisting of a series of ornate arches that run along both sides creating perfect symmetry and is opened in the warmer months where you can sit and enjoy an aperitivo or just take in the Piazza. It is one of the first examples of a Renaissance building to feature the Palladian window design.
In the center of Vicenza, the Piazza dei Signori is a historic landmark city square surrounded by Palladio’s masterpieces along with the Palazzo del Monte di Pieta, Chiesa di San Vincenzo, Loggia del Capitanio, Torre Bissara and the Lion of St. Mark and Christ the Redeemer columns. The leaning clock tower the Torre Bissara is from an old building previously on that site.
The Cathedral of Vicenza- Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata, a Gothic style facade Roman Catholic church by Palladio in the 15th century built on the foundation of three earlier churches. The bell tower dates from the 12th century and has 5 bells. The beautiful dome is a signature of Palladio.
Cupola and Tower
Palladio built more than 20 buildings at the eastern end of Corso Andrea Palladio one of the main streets in the historic old town center. Like many main streets it is lined with palaces and other structures he designed. There are many fine shops and restaurants in this retail area. Of course, we stopped to enjoy my favorite an Aperol Spritz! Which is your favorite Aperol or Campari! I even discovered a new option called a Hugo Spritz made with St. Germaine! Love IT!!!
THE QUINTESSENTIAL APERITIF
Start by adding ice into the glass then pour in the Prosecco, the Aperol and add a splash of soda, top with a slice of orange. This serving avoids the Aperol settling at the bottom.
Preparation Time: 5 min
FILL A WINE GLASS WITH ICE
COMBINE PROSECCO DOC FOLLOWED BY APEROL IN EQUAL PARTS
The city was redeveloped after its devastation during WW2 with industry becoming the major economic drive of business.
Nearby, also by Palladio, the Teatro Olimpico replicates a classic outdoor theater, indoors. Considered one of his most magnificent buildings. The interior is constructed entirely of stone, stucco and wood. The stage has stone statues on its facade, archways and plaster work.
On the outskirts of town, one of the most influential of Palladio’s buildings on a hill overlooking the city is the Villa La Rotonda with its 4 identical facades. This was historic as architecture was now being adapted to residential living. It’s amazing design and symmetry make it unique. Each side has a portico resembling the Pantheon in Rome which Palladio was inspired by. If you are a fan of architecture I highly suggest you check this out on the internet as I could not get there as it was not in walking distance to the walled central historic district.
I try to educate my readers just a little on the history of the locales I visit so you are not just seeing pretty pictures but truly experiencing a city thru my eyes. You can search for the city of your choice on the home page or by topic. There are stories on gardening, landscaping theory and of course, my favorite Italy! Enjoy and feel free to share!
First thing upon arriving, after we were challenged by the hordes of traffic for The International Motorcycle Show and Motor Bike Expo, we made our way to the river and the Museo di Castelvecchio. This 14th century fortified castle houses artifacts from the Middle Ages. There are seven towers and even a draw bridge!
The Ponte Scaligero runs from Castelvecchio castle across the river and is a very distinctive bridge landmark in Verona. The segmented arch bridge crossing the Adige River was the world’s largest span at the time of its construction in 1354. Along the river bank there are walking trails surrounding the city. The Scaligeri family ran Venice and the Veneto region in the 14th century much like the Medici’s ruled over Florence. The castle has ornate tombs and towering family statues on pillars. This so the people would “look up to them”. Verona was, after all, one of Italy’s great powers.
Views from the Ponte Scaligero towards the Basilica di San Zeno
From the Ponte Scaligero you can see to the Ponte della Vittoria (see Featured photo) which also spans the Adige River. There are equestrian statues on either end and the view from the bridge back to the Ponte Scaligero and the Castelvecchio especially at sunset was amazing. Since I got over there just before sunset I was too intent on the sunset over the Ponte Scaligero to capture the statues. Next time!
The Ponte Pietra, Verona’s oldest bridge is a Roman-era stone bridge and you definitely want to walk across and up the hill to see the sunset and the views from the Castel San Pietro. The bridge itself is very picturesque both day and night and affords some beautiful photo opportunities as you look up and down the river from the top of the bridge. Built in the 1st century B.C. it is the most ancient Roman monument in Verona.
Duomo Di Verona is the city’s cathedral and can easily be reached from the Ponte Pietra. It was constructed on the remains of two earlier churches that were destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. An absolutely beautiful church in the historic medieval center. The Basilica has striped brick and stone walls not unlike other churches I have seen throughout Italy.
Basilica di Santa Anastasia is the most important religious monument in the Gothic style in Verona. Funded by the Scaligeri family it was built around 1290.
Verona’s majestic Basilica Di San Zeno dates from the 12th century in Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is a striking landmark especially when viewed from the across the river. This Romanesque church’s bronze doors have 48 carved panel Bible Scenes and beautiful frescoes inside from the 12th – 15th centuries.
Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli, is an ancient Roman Catholic church built in the early 12th century on a pre-exiting Roman cemetery. Located right near the Porta dei Borsari mentioned in the previous blog on the Corso Cavour. A striking Veronese Romanesque bell tower stands apart from the church.
Did you miss the last 2 blogs on Verona? Romeo, Romeo and Verona’s Bridges? Link to them to read more about this lovely city.
You know how the story goes…. those unforgettable words spoken by Juliet from that famous balcony supposedly in Verona- not really! Very touristy spot! I skipped Casa di Giulietta. There were however two real feuding families in Verona called the Capuleti’s and the Montecchi’s. Juliet never lived in the 1300’s Gothic style house so popular with tourists in Verona. Instead to show their love the tradition of putting a padlock on the wall was to show that couples were locked together. Well we know how that ancient story by Shakespeare ended. Okay enough about them!
In Northern Italy’s Veneto region, at the base of the alps, Verona was actually the setting for 3 of Shakespeare’s plays. It is one of the 7 Provincial Capitals of the Veneto region and the 2nd largest city in the region as well as the third largest in Northeast Italy where it winds around the Adige River. It was an ideal stop before heading over the Alps. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its urban structures and architecture.
First thing upon arriving we made our way to the river and Castelvecchio. This 14th century fortified castle houses artifacts from the Middle Ages. There are seven towers and even a draw bridge. It was an important military stronghold of the Scaligeri family. Today it houses a museum.
Verona’s Centro Storico, its medieval center was centered around the Piazza dell Erbe the oldest piazza in the city originally the town’s forum during Roman times. Today there are vendors selling a variety of goods, souvenirs, fruits and vegetables surrounded by restaurants, palazzos, and shops.
Standing tall in the Piazza is the Torre dei Lamberti with its octagonal bell tower and bronze doors depicting Biblical stories and old bells from the 15th century. Originally constructed in 1172 it is the tallest medieval tower in Verona and offers panoramic views of the city. Today the Piazza is the home to markets but back in the 15th century it was home to the vegetable market and the fountain that still stands at its center – Fontana Madonna.
Piazza dei Signoria, another city square has a statue of Dante Alighieri, Renaissance Palazzos as well as magnificent churches. It is lovely to just hang out in the these Piazza’s, visit with friends and of course drink an aperitivo! Of course, this is Grappa country! The longer it ages the smoother it gets. Who knew!
The Verona Arena is a 1st century Roman amphitheater and very well preserved and Verona’s most famous monument. It is the third largest Roman amphitheater after the Colosseum and the Arena of Capua. It is always amazing to me to walk the ancient streets in these cities where the Romans once walked and gladiators fought. Today the Arena is used for opera concerts. If you are lucky enough to find yourself there in summer plan to attend the Opera festival. The Arena is located in the largest square in the historic center in Piazza Bra. Another lovely spot to sit and enjoy the cafes, the company and the atmosphere. Just take it all in and don’t be in a hurry! Savor this opportunity.
Enter the city through the Porta Borsari- the ancient Roman gate that once marked the southern entrance into the city and was the main gate. Verona successfully marries the old and the new. You are at once transported back to Roman times while shopping at new high end boutiques.
The Roman Arena constructed in the 1st century of pink marble was the 8th largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire and actually predates the Coliseum in Rome.
Castel San Pietro, begun way back in 1851, sits high above the city. This was an Austrian military installation and was used to control the city during the Austrian occupation.
Teatro Romano is Verona’s most ancient structure built at the end of the 1st century B.C. It sits right below Castel San Pietro across the Ponte Pietra. Today it is used for events like the Shakespeare Festival.
Chiesa Di San Giorgio sits along the river and can be seen from the Castel San Pietro. The views from up there were amazing in every direction! There was quite a gathering waiting for sunset!
If you have time, try to visit the Palazzo Giardino Giusti (Palace and Garden) widely considered one of the finest examples of an Italian garden. This garden, a masterpiece of Renaissance landscaping planted in 1580 combines manicured and natural cypresses and a parterre. Sadly, I did not have time to get over there. As a garden designer I would have loved to see this but there’re only so many hours in a day, right!
This is not a small city but I found it very walkable. I wish I had more time to explore, but more next time. Always a reason to return! Did you miss the other blogs on Verona?
Thank you again to my friend Kris Beal who happened to be in Verona about the same time as I was and she did manage to capture Juliet’s balcony when I couldn’t get there. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/krismbeal
Pienza is a small town located in the Val D’Orcia, (2004 UNESCO World Cultural Landscapes) in the southeastern area of Tuscany. Situated between Montepulciano and Montalcino and South of Siena it is an easy day trip if your home base is anywhere in Tuscany. In 1996, UNESCO made the center of Pienza a World Heritage Site. I recently learned exactly what this means: “considering that the site is of outstanding universal value as it represents the first application of the Renaissance Humanist concept of urban design, and as such occupies a seminal position in the development of the planned “ideal town” which was to play a significant role in subsequent urban development in Italy and beyond” (source: VisitTuscany.com)
Pienza is one of the best examples of a Renaissance planned town that has survived relatively intact from ancient times. The streets have such romantic names like Via dell’ Amore (love street)!
It was the home of Pope Pius II who was born here. Pienza means “the city of Pius”. Construction began approximately in 1459 on top of the ancient hamlet that existed and lasted about 4 years. Check out the old well in the Piazza Pio II main square named for Bernardo Rossellino, the architect who had previously worked with Alberti on the facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
This town was the first to be constructed using urban planning techniques and was planned around the Piazza and all the town’s main monuments are located on this square; the cathedral and three other palaces: Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Borgia, and Palazzo Comunale.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral [Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta) built on the remains of a Romanesque church stands in the main square and includes many works of art including five altar paintings from the Sienese school. The facade is typical of Renaissance architecture. Supposedly the Pope wanted the cathedral to tower over the other buildings as a sign of faith. The Duomo is one of the first Renaissance cathedrals with stained glass windows and a classical interior.
Palazzo Borgia is another important building on the square and now home to a museum.
Palazzo Comunale is the town hall and has a loggia and a facade decorated with a scratched plaster technique and a brick bell tower.
This town is so beautiful as is the countryside surrounding it dotted with cypress trees, hayfields and winding roads.
Pienza is the capital of pecorino cheese “sheep’s milk cheese” and has a distinctive sharp and salty taste acquired from a particularly aromatic milk courtesy of the sheep pastures in the Val D’Orcia region. You can be sure we brought some home!
Be sure to walk around the views are amazing!
Historical Sources: Wikipedia, Fodor’s and VisitTuscany.com
Now we are seriously in the heart of wine country! Montepulciano is reknown for 2 wines in this region: Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. These are some of the very best wines in the world. Sitting high on a hilltop with steep narrow streets it is like many of the other towns in the region with a main piazza. Did you know this town is built on a narrow limestone ridge about 600 meters above sea level! The streets are lined with Renaissance-style palazzos and churches.
The medieval town hall Palazzo Comunale was built between the end of the 1300’s and the middle of the 1400’s. The original front design of the building in travertine resembles the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence which is not surprising since 500 years ago this town allied itself with Florence. The cornel on the left side of the main entrance bears a ‘griffin’ the symbol of the town of Montepulciano. Contucci Palace on the right.
On the top of the tower which you can climb that raises about 50 meters above the Renaissance Piazza grande provides amazing views of the countryside from Val D’Orcia to Val di Chiana. To the west is Pienza and Montalcino. The tower was a keen lookout position although it was never meant to hide soldiers.
The people’s spirit here is very independent and they show that with colorful rituals in the Piazza.
The Montepulciano area is famous for producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, a fine wine that is among the oldest in Italy and is from the Sangiovese vines. In 1980 it became the first Italian wine to display the neck-strip of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.). http://www.consorziovinonobile.it/main.php
The town is built on a honeycomb of wine cellars with gigantic barrels. It takes about 3 years and the tanins must be just right. They have been making wine here for 700 years.
Red meat is king at local osterias like Bistecca Fiorentina: T-bone seared over embers and always served rare! You can’t help but love this area of Italy. The people are friendly, the wine is outstanding and the food is divine!
Do you love La Dolce Vita? I have many blogs on various areas all over Italy. You can search by area. Enjoy and share! If you missed the last one on San Gimignano here is a link.
The epicenter of the Renaissance in Florence started a cultural explosion. The Medici family led Europe into the Modern Age in the 15th century and out of the shadow of the Church. There was a passion for art and Florence quickly became the art capitol of the western world. The Medici’s were powerful and wealthy bankers and accumulated enormous wealth. Art was first commissioned here just for the sake of art. Lavish frescoes now adorned the walls in palaces.
They started to see a celebration of the human body as seen in the original statue of David at the Galleria dell’ Accademia by Michelangelo. Art and science were now combined. A change in architecture occurred and now architecture was meant to be viewed from all around and not attached (flat) to a building. This was a major departure from the past. We see the rise of Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. They moved from the Gothic (pre-Renaissance) to Renaissance. Major events shaped the Florence we know today including the Black Death in 1348 and while Florence survived other areas like Siena and San Gimignano were devastated.
The Palazzo Vecchio (originally Palazzo della Signoria) was originally a seat of government and the temporary residence of the Duke Cosimo Medici till he moved to Palazzo Pitti across the Arno River. There are wonderful bronze statues in the Piazza of Hercules, Neptune, Perseus and Medusa in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the south side of the Piazza and then there is Cosimo Medici on his horse. This square has been the site of great public events throughout the history of Florence.
Perseus w/Medusa’s head
The Uffizi Gallery formerly the administrative offices of the Medici was commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo I Medici in 1560 and now holds Italian paintings and it is the supreme museum for art history buffs. When the Medici moved their art collection here it became Europe’s first modern museum to to the public.
The Corridoio Vasarino was constructed in 1565 and was an elevated passage and allowed the Medici family to traverse the river without coming into contact with the public. Ingenious! (Thank you to our fabulous guide Elizabeth for showing us this map and enticing us with the history of this amazing city)
The Piazza della Repubblica, the Grand Square was the site of the ancient Roman Forum a mere 2000 years ago and was the core of the original Roman settlement. The triumphal arch celebrates the unification of Italy. What a lively spot now in the evenings with outdoor cafes, musicians and a carousel.
Fun Fact: The Antinori’s were winemakers starting in the 1200’s. This crazy cart was how they took wine to town. Did you know Chianti wine must have Sangiovese grapes? Tignarello was their premier wine and still is and is available here in the US but let’s face it we would rather be drinking it in Florence!
If you love red wine: the Chianti Classico of Tuscany is worth the trip!
Let’s continue to explore Florence and Tuscany! Next read more about Michelangelo and his famous ‘David’. Did you miss the previous blog on Florence! Here you go!
Need help planning your next trip to Italy? I highly recommend L’Esperta and Ashley Turney. She is a true expert on all things Italy and Italian!